T2 Trainspotting, like Trainspotting before it, isn’t your typical Hollywood film. So it’s not surprising that it, too, lacks that classic fairytale ending. Director Danny Boyle told SF Weekly the same about the first encounter he had with the main actors: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Robert Carlyle, when beginning work on the sequel that finds former heroin addict Renton (McGregor) coming home to Edinburgh and trying to make amends with his cronies after absconding with the others’ ill-got gains, 20 years earlier.
“There was no Hollywood ending, where all four reunite at once and embrace” the 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours director joked. “We didn’t even have all four in the room, initially, because of competing schedules.”
What was magical, according to Boyle, was the confidence, with which these once fledgling actors during the filming of the first film, back in 1996, returned to their roles two decades later.
What’s the biggest difference between Trainspotting and T2?
That what editor Jon Harris and I were watching in the editing room is manhood. The first film is clearly boyhood, with that amazing time in your life — which men particularly enjoy — when you just don’t give a fuck about anything, including yourself. You look at some of the things you do and think, “I got away with that? How did I get away with that?” But you do, and now that all their children are running around, all of whom are disappointed in their fathers, you think that the arc of the film is male behavior over time.
The original film created sex and style symbols out of the young cast, particularly Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller. How did you overcome the fact that these men are older?
You don’t. If you tried to, it’d be laughable. That’s what Renton says: “I’m 46, and I’m fucked.” And it’s why we didn’t make it 10 years ago. We tried, but the danger would have been you were still trying to do the same thing.
But when we made the first one, we weren’t thinking any of those things. We weren’t trying to make it look cool or stylish. We were trying to reflect the energy of the book. These voices that are normally marginalized, this perspective of the victim, it was like, fuck that. They enjoy drugs, but that’s why they’re doing them.
And it had a sense of humor and it was sexy, weirdly, but if you look at in detail, it’s not very sexy. Renton goes down a toilet, but some of it was still sexy. It was sexy, because sexy’s free. It’s not posed. It’s that freedom of energy thing that’s so attractive. But when you get to 46 and begin to creak, you can’t pretend that you still got that, so you have to say goodbye to that.
The one constant is that they’re still not very likable.
That was always the attraction of them, that you make them the center of your film, but they’re not your conventional heroes. It’s like they say in this film, “First there was an opportunity. … Then there was a betrayal.” It’s like one hand washes the other in their minds. Any opportunity, they immediately think betrayal, straightaway. That’s a terrible quality to recommend someone.
But what you usually get in a film is this slightly fake moral code, which you can’t behave like that if you’re the chief character in the film. But as we know, people do behave like that. It’s why you make the film like you make the film. You make it with very little money, because you’re not going to get a lot of money to portray these characters, and if you did get a lot of money, you’ll start applying a moral code to them, which is alien.
What was the experience of getting the four actors together again?
What was shocking about them, and it’s partly a result of their experience and how skilled they are as actors, was how confident they were about returning to the parts. I thought there might be a hesitation about, “Can I still do him?” But there was none of that. And I know this because part of your process as a director is helping actors through the early stages when they aren’t confident. When they haven’t found their feet. It was shocking how ready to go they were.
Was there anything they could do the first time that they couldn’t do now?
Run endlessly. We ran over Spud on a Quad bike that I was on in the original movie. If you’re watching the film, it’s a cut where you’re running after him and he’s looking over his shoulder and that’s a Quad bike going at the same speed he’s going at. I’m like, “Run at full speed, because I don’t want it to look like movie running and we’ll keep up with you, I promise.” And off he went, and he tripped and went down and of course the bike’s on him and went over him. Of course you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore because you’ll end up with two months off because their tendons aren’t as flexible anymore. Your compensation, though, is that their skill as actors has gone through the roof because of their experience.
You launched Ewan McGregor’s career with Trainspotting and Dev Patel’s with Slumdog Millionaire. Do you take pride in that?
You feel a real pride. I see Dev now, and he’s like a fucking beast. He’s so fit, so not a little scrawny kid anymore who’s giving me talk-back and being cheeky to me. He’s a man now. You don’t have the same thing with Ewan, though, because he’s done so many different things now.
T2 Trainspotting hits theaters Friday, March 24.